From Annapolis to Scapa Flow: The Autobiography of Edward L. Beach, Sr

Article excerpt

Beach, Edward L., Sr., with Edward L. Beach, Jr. From Annapolis to Scapa Flow: The Autobiography of Edward L. Beach, Sr. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2003. 344pp. $34.95

This charming and insightful memoir is among the most vivid and enjoyable portraits of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Navy ever written. Originally drafted in the 1930s following Captain Beach's retirement, it is the story of the fascinating career of an officer who began at sea by learning to handle sail as a midshipman in 1888 and ended by commanding a seventeen-thousand-ton steel battleship at Scapa Flow during the Great War. Full of equal parts delightful sea stories, harrowing maritime adventures, and thoughtful diplomatic insights, this is indeed a sailor's story. The volume was edited with loving care by the author's son, the late Captain Edward L. Beach, Jr., who was known for his famous work Run Silent, Run Deep (Naval Institute Press, Classics of Naval Literature series) and a dozen other histories and novels. Beach the younger inserts many wry and sometimes poignant asides that help to set in context his father's story.

And what a story! Beginning in the late 1880s, Beach senior served alongside Civil War veterans as he learned his trade in wooden sailing ships. He saw firsthand the naval renaissance of the late nineteenth century, powered by the intellectual energy of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Stephen B. Luce, and the political dynamics of Theodore Roosevelt. Beach began his commissioned service as an engineer and served as such until the merger of the engineering and line communities (amidst much controversy) in 1897. He met and interacted with every significant naval figure of his time; among the most celebrated were a future commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune, his Annapolis roommate, and a young assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Beach's career included command of a repair ship, cruisers, and the battleship USS New York, which served as the flagship of the American Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet during World War I. Beach also commanded two major shore installations-the torpedo production facility at Newport, Rhode Island, and the Naval Shipyard at Mare Island, California. There are two episodes in his thirty-eight-year career that are particularly worth noting-the battle of Manila Bay, in which Beach served as engineer below decks in the cruiser USS Baltimore, and the destruction of the cruiser USS Memphis in the harbor of Santo Domingo in 1916 while under his command. (This story is brilliantly told in his son's gripping classic, The Wreck of the Memphis, in the Naval Institute Press, Classics of Naval Literature series.)

What is most striking about this superb memoir are the similarities to our own time. Even as the United States debates the transformation of its military today into an information-based force, the parallels are obvious in Beach's writing at the turn of the twentieth century: "The whole Navy of this period was enthusiastically interested in the fast-developing technology of warships and the sea. …